Sunday, August 23, 2015

10. Wonder

In the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis' autobiography, 'Report to Greco', there is this beautiful scene that you often remember. During the course of his wanderings across the islands, the author, along with a friend who is a priest, stops at a little monastery occupied by Sufi dervishes who dance every Friday. They have a conversation with a friendly dervish who comes out to welcome them.

"Father, what name do you give God?", asked the abbé.

"God does not have a name", the dervish replied. "He is too big to fit inside names. A name is a prison, God is free."

"But in case you should want to call Him," the abbé persisted, "when there is need, what name will you use?'

The dervish bowed his head and thought. Finally he parted his lips: "Ah! - that is what I shall call Him. Not Allah, but Ah!"

        *             *             *             *             *             *             *             *

As you walk into the gray monsoon-dark park that day, you are unprepared for the discoveries you would make. More than six months ago you had searched for the tree of the beautiful red seeds, with a friend's young son. The seeds were everywhere, but you could not locate the tree. And you tried again afterwards, months later. But you never found it.

Today when you start your usual walk, cutting across your favourite stretch, you walk a little more to the left than usual. And you notice that the ground beneath your feet is full of red seeds! You look up. You are under the Red Sandal tree. At last. It was there always. So close to where you usually have your park picnics. And you'd never noticed!

And then a little further down, you discover the huge round cup-like seed pod a friend had found during a picnic. And whose source you could never find. And today you walk into a space covered with them! And you look up at these three beautiful giant trees with thick canopies. You are filled with wonder. This was a stone's throw away from where you normally sit. A horticulture-lover friend identifies it for you. The Sterculia Alata, the Buddha Coconut tree.

You feel like a child all over again. You want to hug strangers and tell them - hey, look what I found!

And then when you reach your silk cotton tree and discover a new nest in a branch you always look up at, you smile.

Lying down under the tree, you think of how over the years you have become more fascinated by people than places.  How every person is a country that reveals new territories that you never knew existed. And how that happens  only when you reach out, are curious, when you create this safe place where the other can open up without fear. When you learn to project kindness, like a horse whisperer who wins the trust of even the most wounded animal. 

You are filled with wonder as you traverse layer after layer into the core of another.

We are plural. We are changing. And the familiar is forever new.

16 Aug 2015

The full series here:

Sunday, August 9, 2015

9. Balance


After many Sundays of dark cloudy mornings, today when you approach the city, the light breaks through the clouds, like the blessing it always is. You know the park will be beautiful today, and can't wait to reach. It is. The light from the East, slanting in through the trees, creating patches of shadow and brightness. The parakeets and barbets, loudly announcing the start of the day. Your favourite rain tree at the park gate; its canopy shyness, as always, pure poetry.

You remember how the darkness of the last Sunday depressed you. And how you didn't quite face it with equanimity, such a minor thing. :)  You have been thinking a lot of balance, of late. Of what it takes to react to the unexpected, without losing one's cool. Of being prepared for the worst, but without dread. You remember your one year of Tai Chi lessons, the perfect exercise of balance, of never falling.

You keep returning to this beautiful blog post that says it perfectly, a lesson learned from Judo - Kuzushi. You are grateful for this reminder that tranquility is possible, though there is little we can predict. We can only choose the way we react to the unexpected.

Today you have to collect seeds for a friend, who wants to plant trees in the forest next to his house. You pull your eyes away from the light which is now playing hide and seek, and look down. And then you can't lift your eyes up! There is a whole world out there, on the damp park floor! So many species,within a few metres, their leaves and seeds intermingling with the lush undergrowth of so many kinds of grass and weeds. And insects, and their babies. And ants, busy as ever. And fungi.

Within minutes you have collected a whole bunch. Jacaranda, copper pod, hongai, tamarind, casuarina, pappillonacea something. Such riches! You have forgotten to bring a bag, your purse is full of seed-mud.

And you discover some new trees because you see a seed you don't recognize and you look up - hey, what's this? And you thought you knew ever square inch of this part of the park.

Each one so different, each one containing life, waiting patiently to be born, or wither and go back into the circle of life. So much going on, silently, all around us.

You can hear the military band playing as you walk towards the silk cotton tree. And when you reach your favourite Gulmohar tree, the one of the beautiful skirts, the light comes in suddenly, and leaves a fleeting patch of brightness amidst the dark monsoon green of the park.

At the silk cotton tree, there are two girls sitting on the raised platform, talking. As always, when you overhear conversations in the park, you notice how some people are so absorbed with their lives, their tribulations, even during a morning walk. How not everyone is looking at the trees or exclaiming at the light. The park, a setting for so many dramas being recounted at length. To each his own. : )

The tree has a few more patches of yellow leaves in between, you wonder why. Surely this is not shedding season? Or maybe it is a tree that observes Autumn? :)  A lone squirrel careering down the trunk. You can hear so many small birds, but you can't see them. You wonder what they are.

And as always, just when you think - "Hey, the kites are missing!" - you hear a shrill cry from up above. The first one to spot you telling the others - "Hey, the mad tree-kissing woman is here!" :) :)

You notice how because of the attention you pay to the silk cotton tree, you have also started observing other trees with more care. Your love for one tree overflows on to all others. Just as your love for one person should make you love the whole world more, an abundance that should spill on to everybody.

"False love, i.e shared mutual selfishness, makes people more selfish (and this is the case often enough). Genuine love increases the capacity to love and to give to others. The true lover loves the whole world in his or her love for a specific person." Erich Fromm, 'To Have or To Be?'

A fine balance.

The full series here: